Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery

uniformed military personnel surround a stretched-out american flag within view of gravestones in arlington cemetery. far in the background are military members standing
Michael Collins, Apollo 11 NASA astronaut and a U.S. Air Force Major General, is laid to rest in Section 51 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. on Jan. 30, 2023. The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and the U.S. Air Force Ceremonial Brass Band conducted modified military funeral honors with funeral escort. (Image credit: U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery)

One of NASA's first moon astronauts was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who died at age 90 on April 28, 2021, was the first human to orbit moon alone (without any nearby spacecraft) on July 20 and 21, 1969 as crewmates Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did the debut moonwalk on the surface.

On Monday (Jan. 30), Collins received modified funeral honors with funeral escort by the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and the U.S. Air Force Ceremonial Brass Band. Collins' daughter, Kathleen Collins, received the U.S. flag from her father's funeral service, officials with Arlington wrote of the ceremony on Flickr. (Collins' wife of 57 years, née Patricia Finnegan, predeceased him in 2014.)

"Collins received many awards and decorations throughout his career, including the Presidential Medal for Freedom," Arlington officials wrote. 

Related: See the moon like the Apollo astronauts with these epic panoramic photos

By coincidence, Collins' interment took place four days after the annual NASA Day of Remembrance for astronauts who gave their lives during spaceflight activities, which included ceremonies in Arlington Jan. 26.

Collins, a U.S. Air Force Major General, joined NASA in 1963 and also flew on the Earth-orbiting Gemini 10 mission. Prior to joining the agency, Collins was a fighter pilot and from 1959 to 1963 served as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California. 

The son of a U.S. Army major general, Michael Collins was born Oct. 31, 1930, in Rome, Italy. Collins moved with his family to the United States and enrolled at West Point Military Academy after high school. He received a bachelor of science degree in 1952 and subsequently joined the Air Force. 

The Apollo 11 crew smiles in quarantine after their 1969 mission. From the left, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. (Image credit: NASA)

At NASA, Collins performed two spacewalks on Gemini 10 in July 1966 when extravehicular activities were in their infancy. He also was one of the capcoms (the astronaut communicating with the crew) in Mission Control during Apollo 8, which was the first spacecraft with humans on board to orbit the moon in December 1968.

Collins spent 21.5 hours alone in the command module of Apollo 11 while his crewmates were on the surface, including periods where he was cut off from all communication from Earth on the moon's far side. He later wrote about that experience in his 1974 autobiography "Carrying the Fire":

"I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion [people] plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side."

Collins retired from the Air Force and left NASA in 1970. He remained active in public service for decades, in positions such as assistant secretary of state for public affairs, the first director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, and undersecretary of the Smithsonian.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace